Four climbers die in Glencoe avalanche

A group of six mountaineers fell 500 feet, a day after six hillwalkers were airlifted to safety off the Cairngorms

Two men and two women died in an avalanche in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands yesterday. The four were part of a group of six climbers descending the Bidean Nam Bian peak when a snow slope is said to have "broken away" causing them to fall 500 feet, leaving them buried under two feet of snow and ice.

A third man in the group escaped and managed to raise the alarm. He was able to direct mountain rescue teams to the site of the avalanche where they began to search, using dogs. One woman was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William, where she is being treated for "serious" head injuries.

Rescue teams and police dogs continued to scour the area and later located four more bodies who were pronounced dead at the scene, a spokesman for the Northern Constabulary said last night. The search and rescue operation involved the Glencoe and Lochaber Mountain Rescue teams, together with police search and rescue units.

The tragedy occurred after the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) issued a warning that "human-triggered avalanches are likely" in the Glencoe area. The risk was rated as "considerable" in places. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's Deputy First Minister, tweeted: "Dreadful news from Glencoe. Thoughts with all those affected."

David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS), said Bidean Nam Bian is a Munro – a mountain with a height in excess of 3,000ft – with a number of different climbs.

"It is a fantastic location to go climbing at this time of the year as it is very beautiful," he said. "It is always difficult in these circumstances, but I think the advice we would give to people is to check the weather and avalanche forecasts before setting off, and to assess the risks. The thoughts of the MCoS are with all of those involved and the rescue services up there doing the job."

In a separate incident on Friday, six hillwalkers were airlifted from the Cairn Toul area of the Cairngorms when a woman became lost in severe weather. She was being monitored at Raigmore Hospital yesterday.

In 2009/10 five people were killed by avalanches on Scottish mountains and last weekend avalanche awareness courses were launched for Scottish climbers, There have already been 45 avalanches on Scotland's mountains this winter, according to the SAIS. There were more than 175 recorded last year.

Avalanches claimed the lives of three climbers in 2009 on the slopes of Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe, and, in February 2010, Christopher Walker, 29, a mountain instructor from Keswick, Cumbria, and Robert Pritchard, 37, from New Malden, Surrey, were hit by a small avalanche in the same area.

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